Fear & Other Debris in the Road

A few months ago, I took on a new job that I knew wasn’t right for me. Fiscally-speaking, it offered low-hanging fruit, and my fears about economic insecurity won out over the small voice inside of me that kept whispering…..warning me…..that I was about to take a wrong turn. That small voice was right. This particular gig, while definitely enhancing my day-to-day financial situation, has become an enormous time and energy suck. It eats up several hours of my day, and when the time comes for me to turn my focus to other things, I’m depleted. I have little fire or spark left for the things that really matter to me. This is a problem. To date, I have not unloaded this particular job as of yet. To be fair, there are plenty of compelling reasons to continue; the main one being that it has given me some financial freedom and breathing room that I haven’t had in a very long time. For now anyway, the money this gig pulls in provides me some sense of security and keeps my gnawing concerns about finances at bay. But when I look at the big picture of my life and think about how I want to live, I’m pretty clear that making decisions from a place of fear is not a good thing. It erodes the spirit and compromises forward motion.

Fear is one pesky desperado. These days, there seems to be plenty of gloom, doom and scary stuff all around us: a recession that continues to hang on the country like a leach, unemployment numbers that just don’t seem to budge and an ugly political divide that grows more ferocious by the day. The Tea Party has even created a platform with fear as its base, although I am not sure what the Teas are so afraid of.  (Gay immigrants coming into the U.S., stealing their jobs and wrecking their marriages?) Five minutes of cable news can reduce us all into trembling messes.

Fear seems to be on the minds of many creative sorts that I know. Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that it’s been the topic in some of the blogs that I follow. For an artist, fear takes many forms: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of not being able to fund projects, fear of losing the gig and so on.  In my own creative pursuits, fear often has a little sister hanging around: doubt. When the two drop into my psyche, they can create all kinds of shenanigans. Depending on the situation, these can manifest as a low-grade, unsettling discomfort to full on paralysis. I can get way tangled up in it, question myself and chase my tail ad nauseum. As my sister points out,  my mind often runs directly to the worst-case scenario. I don’t know why I do that. It’s just how my fear dances. Ultimately, however, my personal M.O. is to muscle through and “just do it anyway,” in spite of the fear. Eliminating fear from the landscape doesn’t seem realistic. For me, it’s not so much a proposition of eradicating fear but an exercise in shifting my thinking about it and learning to work with it

In her fabulous e-book “Courageous Living,” blogger and life coach Kate Swobada reflects on fear, which she views as “part of the process.” She writes, “ Fear has a bad rap. Fear is actually a sign that we were stepping outside the realm of safety, outside of our comfort zones. Feeling the ‘this is new and different so I don’t like it fear’ is a sign that you are stretching, growing, broadening, deepening, looking, watching, challenging yourself.” I think Kate nails it. In my own experience anyway, some of the greatest things that have ever happened to me, especially as a singer or a writer, have occurred way beyond my comfort zone. Even though fear is uncomfortable, it seems like a pretty juicy place to be sometimes. Again, it depends on what’s going on. I sometimes think about the artists that have inspired me. Surely, Ella Fitzgerald had moments of fear and doubt. She was human. Yet clearly, this didn’t stop her.

Perhaps some of my biggest fears swirl around money. This is how I ended up in the particular situation I’m in now. I’ve strayed from the path. I’m not exactly doing what I want to do, at least not completely. It’s true that the payoff is fiscal “security.” But I have to wonder if that sense of security is real or just an illusion. Even more, I wonder what the price is in terms of the things I’m passing by while I kill myself over this gig. Again, Ms, Swobada has a compelling thought: “…..fear isn’t the issue; the issue  is how we use it as an excuse to back down and live halfway.” This certainly brings up questions that I don’t have answers for right now. But I can’t seem to shake that concept of “living halfway.” Have I allowed fear to get the best of me? Have I allowed it to rob me of my focus on the things that are really most important?

I’d like to think on this and get back to you.

I obviously don’t have answers or deep insights right now. However, I appreciate the opportunity to delve into this and have a look. I would like to close this post not with more rumination on fear but with a little story of courage. My 13-year-old son has decided to dress as Lady Gaga for Halloween this year. He is wearing something very specific to Lady G’s couture: the lacy red dress and “mask” that she wore at the 2009 MTV Video Awards. My son is sewing the costume himself, with a little bit of help from his dad. He’s even getting extra credit in his fashion design class for making the costume. Unfortunately, his choice of Halloween costume is not going over very well at his dad’s house. Although his dad is helping him with some of the sewing, he strongly disapproves of his son going out in “drag.” He’s also not a fan of Lady Gaga and has been unrelentingly vocal about this, to the point, in my opinion, of shaming the kid. Adding to the trouble, my 17-year-old son has also jumped on the bandwagon and has been sending his little brother text messages imploring him not to go out on Halloween dressed as Lady Gaga. Of course, I serve as a counterbalance to these affronts. I have no problem with the costume. I also have no problem with Lady Gaga; if she makes my kid happy and provides a little fun, then it’s OK by me. Further, I am proud of my son for being who he is and for doing what he wants, even in the face of disapproval from people he loves. He and I talked about the problem at length the other night. Regardless of the opinion of his dad and brother, my youngest son will be wearing his Lady Gaga costume to a party at his middle school on Friday as well as on Halloween on Sunday night. He is a little concerned about his dad’s disapproval, but he’s doing what’s right for him anyway. I couldn’t be prouder. That is what courage looks like.

I can learn a thing or two from this kid.